Nuzrat Kazmi’s book dissolves many biases about Islamic art.

The general belief about Islam is that it does not allow pictures of human beings and animals in its artworks. Hence, you would barely see works of art adorning the walls of homes of staunch Muslims. Now, here is a pleasing shocker: Prophet Muhammad himself saved the painting depicting Mother Mary and the infant Christ when idols of Kabbah were being destroyed in Arabia. It is believed that he held this painting in high esteem.

The book “Islamic Art — The Past and the Modern” has this interesting insertion that counters the common belief. Nuzhat Kazmi, the author of the book, which has just hit the stands, quotes from it:“This has been proved by The Bible and Ahle-e-Kitab. And the rationale given is that you can create animals and figures if ‘the intention is not to worship or more importantly, if one’s belief in the monolith is not compromised’.”

The 144-page book published by Roli and replete with magnificent pictures isn’t only about this aspect. It dissolves many other biases about Islamic art. “The general assumption that Islamic art is about minarets and domes is wrong,” says Kazmi. “It’s also about carpets, vases, paintings, jewel boxes, armour, swords, thrones, ceilings, shawls and books.” Kazmi has substantiated it with wonderful text and spectacular photos, many of which she got from Egypt, America, Germany, the Victoria & Albert Museum in the U.K., etc., where she had gone to do research work for the book.

For instance, there is an awesome picture of the Madonna and Child mosaic at Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, built by Roman Emperor Justinian. It was the most important church of the Christian world, the text informs us. After the Turkish invasion, it was converted into a mosque.

Then there is an iznik ceramic plate (1580-1600) in the Lyon Museum, a garden scene from Bustan-I-Sadi, an illustrated Islamic book from the early 16th Century, breathtakingly beautiful 20th and 19th Century gulab posh (rose water sprinkles) with contours of a lotus flower, and several paintings from the 14th to the 20th Century that have sultans, scenes of war, men, animals and so on.

In this context a painting from 16th Century Persia from Nizami Khamsa which depicts Khusrau seeing Shrin bathing in a stream, and a Safavid painting of 1573 in which an elephant seems to be an embodiment of various men and women, becomes very important. This form of painting was very popular in various schools, especially Mughal and Deccani.

The author, interestingly, has also included paintings and other works of art from modern painters across the world in the last chapter. She says, “It is important that we don’t forget the contribution of modern art from India, Turkey, Iran and so on.”

This extremely informative and picturesque book is going to make its presence felt at the Frankfurt Book Fair this year.